Here’s to celebrating failures!

28 Jul,2022

 

 

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

Avik ChattopadhyayThis week has been a revelation for me on two fronts, first getting to know about the ‘Museum of Failure’ and second watching a Hindi film called Samrat Prithviraj.

 

The first celebrates defeats and the second tries its best to cover up one.

 

Logo of the Museum of Failure / Poster of Samrat Prithviraj

 

The Museum of Failure is a simply awesome concept. It showcases close to 150 products and solutions launched that ended up being duds. Examples are like the Apple Newton, Google Glass, Harley-Davidson Cologne, and Sony Betamax. Mega brands. Mega failures.

 

The reasons for failure could range from being ahead of the times to being totally irrelevant. But the objective of creating this amazing display according to founder and creator Samuel West is to celebrate the spirit of innovation and learn from the failures. He says that the displays demonstrate the risks in innovations yet encourage the human mind and spirit to create newer things. Financially supported by the Swedish Innovation Authority [Vinnova], it opened in 2017 in Helsingborg, Sweden. Since then, it has evolved into a travelling show, doing stints in Los Angeles, Shanghai, Paris, and Minneapolis. The Parisians in fact celebrated a complete Festival of Failures!

 

Big brands have sportingly supported him with providing exhibits. It was not demeaning for Kodak to donate a DC-40 camera [costing $1000 per piece which is why it failed] or for Lego to talk about its failed fibre optics venture. There is no shame in admitting to mistakes like Coke-II or Nokia Taco. They are brutal facts and hiding away from them just does not make any sense. It would be hilarious for Coca-Cola to wish away the Coke Blak. It was an interesting innovation, something new was tried but it did not work. Simple. Samuel West clarifies that every product or solution featuring in the museum is carefully chosen for its innovation quotient. Samsung Notes was a failure but will not qualify as an exhibit as it was nothing ‘new’! It’s not about the failure. It’s about the ability to be creative and at least try new things. And learn from failures, defeats and mistakes. That’s the hallmark of any successful brand.

 

I remember Osamu Suzuki once telling us at Maruti [Udyog] Suzuki that one may launch 10 new cars and only two would finally work in the market. The success of these two will cover up the financial losses of the failed eight and provide the investment to create 10 more! The passion for innovation and creation cannot ever stop.

 

Will Maruti Suzuki donate a Zen Classic to the Museum of Failure if it travels to Mumbai? Will brands operating in India happily own up to failures? Will brands believe that admitting to defeats and reversals endears them better with the customer and makes them more ‘human’? Will Ratan Tata own up that the Nano failed in spite of being a brilliant piece of design and engineering?

 

Which brings me to Samrat Prithviraj, the movie. Made by Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, a person my generation has hugely admired for his portrayal of Chanakya on Doordarshan, I had expected the fundamental admission that Prithviraj Chauhan lost to Mohammad ibn Sam of Ghor [commonly known as Mohammad Ghori] in the second battle of Tarain in 1192 AD. Ghori outlived Prithviraj by close to 14 years. We Indians have a big problem with admitting to failures and defeats. So, we revel in the myth that Ghori was killed by a blind Prithviraj aided by his confidante Chand Bardai. The movie claims to be inspired by a work called “Prithviraj Raso” by Chand Bardai written much after the battle, to keep the spirit of the king alive and positive. However, in the movie he too dies along with Prithviraj leading to the basic question that who then wrote the very literary piece?

 

This fear of admitting to failure drives our brands too. Reversals are not even whispered in the corporate corridors, leave alone openly sharing them with the outside world. For us, the Hindi term of ‘naak kat jaana’ which means ‘loss of face’ is a huge social stigma which leads to such defensive action. We do not wish to see the valour in Prithviraj’s defeat for in defeat there can be no valour. We do not wish to learn from the fact that Ghori lost once but came back again better prepared for outsiders or competition cannot be worthy of admiration. We love weaving myths and trying to live in them. I have never seen any politician, judge or bureaucrat accept mistakes and defeats in a truly candid and sporting manner. If in a position of power, we are seemingly invincible. Vulnerabilities are signs of improper parentage and weaknesses are to be hidden from all, including self. Which is why most of us fail to do reality checks in time. We tend to start checking too close to failure.

 

The day we openly celebrate failures as a nation and society will see us as more confident of ourselves, bereft of falling back on our ‘golden past’ and bold enough to invite Samuel West and his Museum of Failure to do a nationwide tour!

 

 

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